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Keesler tests hurricane preparedness

From left, John Dunn, Greg Wilson and Senior Airman Trevor Connelly, 81st Civil Engineer Squadron, board up an entrance to Wolfe Hall as “Hurricane Michael” approaches the base May 3.

From left, John Dunn, Greg Wilson and Senior Airman Trevor Connelly, 81st Civil Engineer Squadron, board up an entrance to Wolfe Hall as “Hurricane Michael” approaches the base May 3.

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- With the June 1 start of the hurricane season just a month away, Keesler took aim at storm preparedness with a week-long exercise.

The scenario took the base from the formation of a tropical depression in the Caribbean Sea near Jamaica on May 1 through evacuation and sheltering for Category 4 "Hurricane Michael" at week's end. 

Such preparations bear special importance for Keesler, which was pounded by Hurricane Katrina, the most destructive natural disaster in U.S. history, 20 months ago. Many civilians and military members who were here then have vivid memories of the storm's devastation, while newcomers need information about what a hurricane threat could mean to Airmen and their families. 

Key players are reviewing the base's response.
Lt. Col. Mack Breeland, 81st Training Wing inspector general, noted several meetings were held over the past two months to ensure the exercise captured the required actions. 

"The end result took the wing through multiple scenarios testing its capabilities," he said. "On the last day of the exercise, the wing had all six shelters open and non-prior service Airmen from the 81st Training Group were pro-cessed into each shelter." 

The wing also used the week to emphasize hurricane preparedness in other ways. 

"There were two wing calls and a town hall meeting for all permanent party personnel and their dependents," Colonel Breeland pointed out. "Several briefers covered hurricane terminology, previous lessons learned and key steps that members need to take to prepare for hurricane season. 

"The exercise was an overall success," he said. "We were able to go through the entire scenario from preparatory actions to post hurricane response. We reviewed our various response teams, actions required at various stages of a hurricane and items we still need to work on. There's still some work to do to ensure we are fully ready, but last week's efforts made the wing better prepared." 

Maj. Jim Quiros, exercise evaluation team chief, works with units to develop scenarios that test the wing's readiness and ability to meet requirements of a hurricane, severe weather, mass casualty or other situations. 

"The HURCON exercise was presented as a way to facilitate discussions among all units that will need to help Keesler conduct operations before, during and after a hurricane," the major explained. "We ran scenarios testing all aspects of our hurricane plan, from student evacuations by planes or buses all the way to evacuation of all non-storm mission essential personnel. 

"By the end of the week, all unit commanders and key players had discussed in details all the steps needed to ensure Keesler was ready for the upcoming hurricane season, but most importantly, ready to meet our mission -- to deliver the nation's best trained and motivated airmen," he said.